30 07 2010


Or, “I Ain’t a Bum As Long As I Got My Gun!”


Recently I was asked to explain why I’m against the notion that everyone should be able to bear arms just as much as he pleases.

Happy to Oblige.


First, the Second Amendment

The language of the 2nd amendment explains itself:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

It the only amendment that has this characteristic. That fact suggests very strongly that the right being given was, just as the language says, only for the purpose of making a “well-regulated militia” possible. The early USA had no standing army. It had to have such a militia in order to have any military capability at all. Therefore a rational reading of the 2nd amendment would be, “As long as you’re a member of the national militia you have a right to keep and bear arms”. This is how the amendment was read by the Supreme Court for many decades. The recent decision of the Supremes that the right to bear arms extends to everyone under every condition is as inexplicable, under the plain terms of the amendment, as the recent decision of the Supremes that corporations, being “persons” under law, have a right to spend unlimited money on elections.

Both those decisions are only explicable as telltale manifestations of “judicial activism”, right-wing variety.


Second, What Gun Ownership Costs Society

Widespread gun-owning is incredibly costly to this society. The murder rate here is between three and four times that of Britain, where gun ownership is tightly controlled.* The widespread availability of guns has produced a brand new all-American cultural rite: “going postal”. When you decide that you’ve been intolerably “done wrong”, usually by your place of work, you, after brooding over that mistreatment sufficiently, can just grab your gun and go a-shooting. It happens all the time.**

Further, our police are trigger-happy out of the knowledge that anyone at all they attempt to collar may have a gun; and in public buildings and events we’re subjected to intrusive, burdensome, and often incredibly expensive “security” procedures and limitations — both largely due to widespread exercise of the 2nd amendment right.


We Want Our Guns Anyway, Damn it!

Oh really?

All this contorting of the Second Amendment and ignoring of blood and money wasted! For what, exactly?

…So a bunch of guys who have guns tangled up in their sense of their own manhood due to having been taken hunting a lot by their dads can continue to feel that warm manly glow as they loll in their recliners? Does that REALLY seem enough to justify all the social ills of gun ownership to you?

…Or is it so we can rebel against the gov’mnt if need be? Hmmmm…. Do you think our brave American revolutionaries could ever prevail against all those tanks, etc. that our bloated military now has? Guess not, huh? So why incur the immense social cost of unrestricted gun ownership then?

People who live in the country need guns to shoot varmints and defend themselves from unwelcome criminal visitors.  When most of America was rural, most people needed guns for the above reasons and, more importantly, to put meat on the table or fight Indians.  Understandably those folks of the 17th through early 20th Century would have gotten very mad at the thought of losing their guns. But today most of America is urban or suburban, and most people — RATIONALLY speaking — no longer need guns. Long guns are now only the toys of occasional hunters. Handguns, as toys, have even less important uses, and, as tools, are only good for killing people. Ordinary people very seldom NEED to kill people. They may think they might someday have that need, but common sense tells us that they almost certainly won’t. So why are a vociferous and thoroughly lobbied-up minority perpetually screaming about the need to protect gun ownership in the USA of this new century?

Wild passion in defense of a thing that has little real value is a tell-tale sign that that thing is not cherished for itself, but as a symbol of something else. And most of the “save our guns” brouhaha in America today does come from a pretty small group of right-wing, very passionate activists who have made this their make-or-break issue.

Ultimately, I think they’ve done THAT because the USA has gone kind of nuts over the last three decades. Lots of us have long been and remain a bit crazed from mourning something wonderful that’s we can now increasingly see is lost beyond redemption. For many generations, we Americans were all unusually “free”, due to having a frontier we could go live on whenever we found we didn’t like society much anymore.  It was the very best kind of freedom too, because the free frontier was situated right next door to civilization; so if you went adventuring there it wasn’t like being irrevocably stuck in a trackless wilderness or something. For over 200 years all Americans were free every day, in principle, to decide anew which way of life they really liked better, gun-totin’ self reliance, or well-policed social order, and to go live where they could live that way.***

Now America has unquestionably lost that frontier freedom for good. Every year that passes it becomes clearer that this is a modern urban society, and there’s no part of the country in which to escape its limitations and demands anymore. Furthermore, ever since around 1980 a brand new loss of a similar weight has loomed in the lives of many of us. The social position and income of working class and lower middle class people — the majority of Americans — has been declining relative to the rest. ****  Many members of that big group of our folks have a great deal of emotion invested in the notion that they are free, independent individuals who need no economic or other help from any quarter. Yet in fact they are mostly  getting poorer every year, and every year they seem to be hemmed in by more rules-on-top-of-rules, at work and elsewhere, that they must obey, on pain of an economic or legal whippin’.

A human brain can’t long endure this degree of conflict between its sense of self and the reality of the society around it. So lots of the traditional guys do what is within their power to do about this unique cognitive dissonance that haunts modern America: They cling to SYMBOLS of the old frontier freedom — the most powerful by far being GUNS — in order to be able to  go on denying the fact of their permanent sentence to the grueling daily labor of negotiating their way through a highly complex society that is slowly abandoning them.



* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_rates

** See The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Jackson_Turner

* Here’s the most recent going postal incident, which happened just 4 days after this blog post was entered: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/nyregion/04shooting.html?_r=1&hp

***See this July 30, 2010 article in the Financial Times http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/1a8a5cb2-9ab2-11df-87e6-00144feab49a.html

or see my earlier post “So THAT’S Why We Both Have to Work!.”

Dumb and Dumber

22 07 2010


Please check out this blistering video by George Carlin, who was almost always funny, and ALWAYS thought for himself:


Then read this blistering comment by Timothy Egan on one of our worst Senators:


and, finally, this blistering explanation of why the standard stratagems of that wretched Senator and his ilk always work:



Overstated? Sure! To a degree.

But lurking in all three of the above comments from smart, thoughtful people is  the sadness of a common disillusionment. The Official Political Faith of America is representative democracy. Most pointy-headed intellectuals subscribe to this faith just as much everyone else here does, including the self-described Palinesque “real people”.

That’s why we American brainiacs are necessarily condemned to lead lives of serial disillusionment. Over and over again, from the Willie Horton lie against Michael Dukakis in 1988, through the Swift Boat lie about John Kerry, to the “death panel” lie last summer against health care reform, we have had to watch millions of voters jump on absurd lie after lie and make it their own, without investigation or even the application of minimal common sense about what’s likely — and what’s not likely — to be true.


Now lots of The Folks here in the USA are swallowing the lie that human-caused global warming is a lie. The vast majority of climate scientists tell us that global warming is happening.  A few outlier scientists say it may or may not be happening.  Right now, most of the Folks believe the tiny minority, and even blowhard opportunists like Senator Inhofe who say it’s definitely not happening, over the majority of scientists.

“Why oh why does this always happen?!” we propeller-heads cry, aghast.

The reasons are not hard to find:

1.) One half of all people have an IQ of less than 100*;

2.) The United States has the best public relations people (i.e., liars for hire) on earth; and

3.) The United States has the most militantly self-righteous rich people on earth, and they have lots to lose** if the global warming problem is acted upon, plus virtually endless supplies of money to pay to the  2)  folks to lie to the  1)  folks.

See, no mystery at all!

But for many of us the sadness remains. And so does a great fear. The People really do rule the USA to a degree, and if they are really this easily led by lies, then it’s only a matter of time until the USA does something terminally stupid.

And then the rest of us who live here will have to take the consequences right along with all the the inattentive folks and dingbats who were lied into bringing those consequences about.

I fear that. And I think that global warming is the thing we’re in the process of making our terminal mistake about now.



*      Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IQ Tests –  (median = 100)

Granted, most people who fall below 100 I. Q. fall within 15 points of the 100 norm. Other factors unique to the USA, however (e.g., ever-increasing work hours, the innate sensationalism and superficiality of our for-profit TV news, etc.), make REAL FACTS hard for all of us to come by. See the first and second urls above for the most important of the impediments in our society to understanding how it really works.

** from drilling for, refining, shipping, and selling oil, natural gas, and coal; and
from selling all kinds of fun products that run on those energy sources.

But there’s another, more subtle, way that the USA’s current energy-use binge especially benefits our better-off citizens. The USA is a society that puts business at the pinnacle of social activities. And it accordingly makes money the usual measure of our citizens’ worth as human beings. The more money you can make, the more you will be honored. There is no competing substantial, society-wide road to high status (such as, for example, being born into an aristocracy that confers distinction even in the absence of wealth).

So any policy concern that might require a degree of retrenchment of economic activity in the USA to solve is widely denied.  Any kind of economic retrenchment here strikes at the heart of the American version of one of the most fundamental wellsprings of action for all humans and creatures like us.  To rise as high as possible in, or to keep one’s already-high place in, the applicable pecking order is a top priority for every social animal from chickens to humans. Here in the USA, centuries of prosperity arising from having had a whole new continent to exploit have accustomed the folks who possess unusually intense desires of this sort to always “expect the best”.

Our hotdog non-team players, in short, do not want to be made to strut their stuff on a smaller stage.

Here’s a response to Mr. Egan’s commentary that I think illustrates this. It expresses the fury of “Capitalist Prof”, who has accrued a lot of status and status markers that he sees those creepy environmentalists as threatening to take away or devalue: http://community.nytimes.com/comments/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/21/weather-bane/?permid=194#comment194


16 07 2010




Amazing! A war in which most people on one side know they’re in a war, and never stop using their wealth to fight for victory….

while most people on the other side not only don’t know they’re in a war, they don’t even know there are SIDES.


George Carlin has a good video on this:



10 07 2010


(re Net Neutrality)

Both of the brand new mass media that technology produced in the USA in the last century started out in freedom, with a burst of diverse creativity. Then the Money People got hold of them. To maximize “delivery of eyeballs [or ears, in the case of radio]” for advertising purposes they proceeded to restrict, censor, and dumb down the brave new medium.

It happened with:

Radio in 1922 – 1930. (Lots of different kinds of stuff was presented at first—even classical music!—, followed swiftly by the lockdown to “popular culture” fare only, shows that were the forerunners of the situation comedies that later became so over-familiar to us on TV);


Television in the late 1940s and early 1950s (A broad range of stuff was broadcast in the first few years—including even highly respected plays written just for TV! You know what happened later.).

Today people are abandoning broadcast TV and radio steadily, because those media have become so narrow in the classes of content they will broadcast and so controlled in what can be said/addressed/played in those broadcasts that they are mostly boring and irrelevant to our lives.

Instead, now we have the Internet: so vastly diverse it’s a joy for every taste! But it won’t last folks, unless the current de facto freedom, aka “net neutrality”, is preserved.

Diversity requires a low initial entry cost, and  continued equality of cost of the Internet medium for all producers. Would we have, say, YouTube now if, when it was starting out as a new concept, Internet carriers had been able to charge it for its bandwidth at a rate 100 or a 1000 times what they charge Google (which, being already gigantic, could always have afforded to buy carrier-rationed bandwidth “in bulk” to get the best deal)?  I doubt it.

And ditto for all the wonderful, unpredictable forms of entertainment and instruction  that the minds of the creative can be counted to produce for us on the Internet over the next several decades—IF they can get their new stuff into the Internet “pipes”.

If today you let your bought-and-paid for Congresspersons pass something that authorizes ISPs to install lucrative “valves” on those pipes to limit what goes through them, then get ready for several decades of whatever becomes the Internet version of situation comedies and reality shows.



Here’s how a group of important economists have said the above:



Here you can follow the doings of THE premier activist organization trying to protect net neutrality:



And here’s a blog on why broadcast radio is growing increasingly popular these days. This guy pulls no punches!